Consumer Health Digest #10-10

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 11, 2010

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Enzyme supplements fail to improve symptoms of autism. A 6-month randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial has found no benefit from administering digestive enzymes to children with autism spectrum disorders. The study, which involved 43 children ages 3-8, found that the enzymes produced no clinically significant improvement in behavior, food variety, gastrointestinal symptoms, sleep quality, engagement with therapist, or the Language Development Survey Vocabulary or Sentence Complexity Scores. [Munasinghe SA and others. Digestive enzyme supplementation for autism spectrum disorders: A double-blind randomized controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Mar 5, 2010. (Epub ahead of print)]

Mail-order scammer gets 20-year sentence. Frank Sarcona (a/k/a Frank Sarcone), whose career as a mail-order scammer spanned more than 30 years despite more than a dozen government enforcement actions, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for a long list of crimes related to selling worthless diet pills. Last October, Sarcona was convicted of 29 criminal charges that included conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud; conspiracy to commit money laundering; and multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, misbranding of a food, and criminal contempt of court. Court documents indicate that he defrauded more than 130,000 customers out of more than $7 million by making false claims that LipoBan (a chitin product) would produce weight loss without rigorous exercise or dietary change and that one user had lost "over 126 pounds in 120 days," which is way beyond what is humanly possible. The case is remarkable because diet-pill scammers are almost never criminally prosecuted and the 20-year sentence is one of the longest ever issued for quackery-related activities. Diet Scam Watch has the details of Sarcona's career plus examples of his ads.

Kevin Trudeau sentenced for contempt. Federal Judge Michael Gettleman has ordered infomercial scammer Kevin Trudeau to serve 30 days in prison and pay a $50,000 fine. Last month, Gettleman found Trudeau in criminal contempt of court for publishing the judge's e-mail address and asking followers to tell him how Trudeau had improved their lives. Trudeau apparently hoped this would soften the judge, who was considering how much to fine Trudeau for violating court orders to stop using false advertisements to market products. The U.S. Court of Appeals has permitted Trudeau to remain free until it considers his appeal of the contempt ruling. A hearing is scheduled for April 8th.

Libel suit by antivaccination leader dismissed. The libel suit filed in December by Barbara Loe Fisher against Paul A. Offit, M.D., Amy Wallace, and Condé Nast Publications has been dismissed for failure to state a cause of action. Fisher is co-founder and acting president of the National Vaccine Information Center, which publishes a vast array of misinformation intended to undermine public confidence in vaccines and the science-based organizations that endorse them. The suit was triggered by Wallace's article, "An epidemic of fear: One man's battle against the anti-vaccine movement," in the November 2009 issue of Wired Magazine in which Offit called Fisher a liar. In discussing Offit's comment, the judge stated:

The declaration "she lies" is plainly understood as an outpouring of exasperation and intellectual outrage over plaintiff's ability to gain traction for ideas that defendant Offit believes are seriously misguided and not as a literal assertion of fact. . . . In other word, the remark by Defendant Offit is, on its face, merely an 'imaginative expression of contempt' felt toward his adversary, which can only be viewed as "an impassioned response to the positions taken by [that adversary] and nothing more.

The judge concluded that, in the context of the article, Offit's statement was an expression of opinion that has constitutional protection and therefore is insufficient to support a defamation claim.

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This page was posted on March 11, 2010.